MIT Sloan Management Review and The Boston Consulting Group have been tracking corporate sustainability for the past eight years, surveying tens of thousands of managers and interviewing more than 150 executives and thought leaders, while producing eight annual reports and numerous blogs and articles. MIT SMR and BCG joined forces to increase knowledge about business adoption of sustainable practices and to support the integration of sustainability into business strategy. (See Appendix for summaries of the reports.)
Despite significant progress, corporate sustainability has arrived at a crossroads. In one direction, corporate leaders in sustainability remain a minority, and are unevenly distributed across geographies and industries. In the other direction, a handful of standout companies are demonstrating that sustainability can be a driver of innovation, efficiency, and lasting business value. Populist political movements around the world threaten to set back global diplomatic progress on issues like climate change and reverse recent regulatory trends. All of this complicates the calculus of corporate leaders and their sustainability strategies.
David Kiron is the executive editor of MIT Sloan Management Review. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gregory Unruh is the Arison Professor of Values Leadership at George Mason University and guest editor for MIT SMR’s Big Idea sustainability initiative. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
Nina Kruschwitz is the former senior project manager of MIT Sloan Management Review.
Martin Reeves is a senior partner and managing director in The Boston Consulting Group’s New York office and head of BCG’s Henderson Institute. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Holger Rubel is a senior partner and managing director and global sustainability lead in The Boston Consulting Group’s Frankfurt office. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
Alexander Meyer Zum Felde is an expert principal for sustainability in The Boston Consulting Group’s Hamburg office. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
MIT Sloan Management Review
Cheryl Asselin, managing editor
Carolyn Ann Geason, designer
Elizabeth Hamblin, web production editor
Max Harless, graphics
Janet Parkinson, copy editor
Lauren Rosano, associate director, digital media
The Boston Consulting Group
Hanna Asmussen, associate
Matthew Clark, global marketing director – strategy
Elena Corrales, lead knowledge analyst
Hans-Georg Höllerer, associate
Sophie Zielcke, consultant
A special thank you to Knut Haanaes, who left BCG in 2016 to become a professor of strategy and international management at IMD in Lausanne, Switzerland. Knut played a key role in setting up the partnership between MIT SMR and BCG in 2008, when he was a senior partner and managing director for BCG. Knut made countless contributions to our research during the past eight years, even after he became the leader of BCG’s Global Strategy Practice.
*Titles and affiliations listed were current at time of interview.
Shai Agassi, founder and CEO, Better Place
Francois Ajenstat, director of environmental sustainability, Microsoft Corp.
Tom Albanese, CEO, Rio Tinto
Ray Anderson, founder and chairman, Interface
Daniel Aronson, founder, Valutus
Brian Bacon, chairman, Oxford Leadership Academy
Christine Bader, author, The Evolution of a Corporate Idealist: When Girl Meets Oil
Balu Balagopal, senior partner and managing director, The Boston Consulting Group
Antoni Ballabriga, global head of responsible business, BBVA
Tima Bansal, director, Network for Business Sustainability
Naty Barak, chief sustainability officer, Netafim
Dan Bena, senior director of sustainable development, PepsiCo Inc.
Carl E. Binning, vice president health, environment, safety and community, BHP Billiton
Betsy Blaisdell, senior manager of environmental stewardship, The Timberland Company
Edgar Blanco, research director, MIT Center for Transportation & Logistics, MIT
David Blood, senior partner, Generation Investment Management
Andreas Bluethner, director of food fortification & partnerships, BASF
Roberto Bocca, director, emerging consumer markets, BP Alternative Energy
Roberta Bowman, senior vice president and chief sustainability officer, Duke Energy
Sheila Bowman, senior manager of outreach and education, Seafood Watch
Michael Bremans, chairman, Ecover Belgium NV
David Bresch, head of sustainability and political risk management, Swiss Re
Peter Bryant, partner, Clareo Partners; senior fellow, Kellogg Innovation Network, Kellogg School of Management
Bastian Buck, director reporting standard, Global Reporting Initiative
John Buckley, global head, corporate social responsibility, BNY Mellon
Robin Chase, cofounder and former CEO, Zipcar; founder, Buzzcar
Matthew Clark, marketing director strategy, The Boston Consulting Group
Jason Clay, senior vice president, market transformation, WWF
John Compton, CEO, PepsiCo America Foods
Douglas Conant, former CEO, Campbell Soup Company; founder, ConantLeadership
Ken Cottrill, writer, MIT Center for Transportation & Logistics, MIT
Jérôme Courcier, CSR officer, Sustainable Development Division, Crédit Agricole S.A.
Vivienne Cox, executive vice president, BP
Robert Eccles, professor of management, Harvard Business School; chairman, Arabesque Partners
John Ehrenfeld, executive director, International Society for Industrial Ecology
John Elkington, founder, SustainAbility
Steve Eppinger, professor of management science and innovation, MIT Sloan School of Management
Shelly Esque, vice president of legal and corporate affairs, Intel and chair of the board of the Intel Foundation
Dan Esty, professor of environmental law and policy, Yale University
Thomas J. Falk, CEO, Kimberly-Clark
Suzanne Fallender, director of CSR strategy & communications, Intel Corporation
Alyssa Farrell, marketing manager for sustainability solutions, SAS
Lewis Fix, vice president of brand management and sustainable product development, Domtar
Steve Fludder, vice president, Ecoimagination, GE
Nick Folland, group corporate affairs, Kingfisher
Jay Forrester, Germeshausen Professor Emeritus of Management, MIT Sloan School of Management
Kathy Gerwig, vice president of employee safety, health and wellness and environmental stewardship, Kaiser Permanente
Brian Gonzalez, director of global education sales, Intel
Santiago Gowland, vice president of brand & global corporate responsibility, Unilever
Peter Graf, chief sustainability officer, SAP AG
Aida Greenbury, managing director of sustainability & stakeholder engagement, Asia Pulp & Paper
Scott Griffin, CEO, Greif Corporation
Brad Haeberle, vice president of marketing, Siemens
Hal Hamilton, codirector, Sustainable Food Laboratory
Amy Hargroves, director of corporate responsibility, Sprint
Katie Harper, manager, sustainable supply chains, Sears Canada
Stuart Hart, S.C. Johnson Chair in Sustainable Global Enterprise, Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, Cornell University
Jørgen Ole Haslestad, president and CEO, Yara
Paul Hawken, author, environmentalist and CEO, Biomimicry Ventures Group
Rebecca Henderson, Senator John Heinz Professor of Environmental Management, Harvard Business School
Howard Herzog, principal research engineer, MIT Laboratory for Energy and the Environment
Dan Hesse, CEO, Sprint Nextel Corporation
Andrew Hewitt, founder, Gamechangers 500
John Hofmeister, founder and CEO, Citizens for Affordable Energy
Jeff Hollender, chief inspired protagonist and cofounder, Seventh Generation
Patrick Hynes, deputy director of member relations, Clinton Global Initiative
Al Iannuzzi, senior director of worldwide health and safety, Johnson & Johnson
Ioannis Ioannou, associate professor of strategy and entrepreneurship, London Business School
Mitch Jackson, director of environmental affairs and sustainability, FedEx
Olivier Jaeggi, founder and managing partner, ECOFACT
Jason Jay, director, MIT Sloan Initiative for Sustainable Business and Society, MIT Sloan School of Management
Hans Jöhr, corporate head of agriculture, Nestlé SA
Nathan Jones, vice president for government and institutional sales, HTI, Eastman Chemical
Kim Jordan, founder, New Belgium Brewing
Patricia Jurewicz, director, Responsible Sourcing Network
Charles Kane, president & chief operating officer, One Laptop Per Child
Georges Kern, CEO, IWC
William Kornegay, senior vice president, Hilton Worldwide
Cary Krosinsky, adjunct lecturer, Brown University
Bob Langert, vice president of corporate social responsibility, McDonald’s Corp.
Judith Layzer, associate professor of environmental policy, MIT
Chris Librie, director, environmental initiatives, HP
Bernard Lietaer, author and academic chairman, ACCESS Foundation
Richard Liroff, executive director, Investor Environmental Health Network
Richard Locke, deputy dean and professor of entrepreneurship, MIT Sloan School of Management
Amory Lovins, cofounder, chairman, and chief scientist, Rocky Mountain Institute
L. Hunter Lovins, president and founder, Natural Capital Solutions
Mindy Lubber, president, CERES
Christoph Luenenburger, leader of sustainability practice, Egon Zehnder
Thomas Malone, professor of management, MIT Sloan School of Management
David Mann, chief of staff, Khosla Ventures
David Marks, Goulder Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Engineering Systems, MIT
Lord Robert May, professor, Oxford University and Imperial College, London
William McDonough, founding partner, William McDonough and Partners
Chris McGrath, vice president of external affairs, Kraft Foods Group Inc.
Michael Meehan, CEO, Global Reporting Initiative
Ronald J. Meissen, senior director of sustainability, Baxter Healthcare Corporation
Tim Mohin, former director of sustainable development, Intel
Ernie Moniz, director, MIT Energy Initiative
Paul Murphy, CEO, Valid Nutrition
Adil Najam, professor, Boston University
Jacqueline Novogratz, founder and CEO, Acument Fund
Frank O’Brien-Bernini, chief sustainability officer, Owens Corning
William O’Rourke, vice president, sustainability and environment, health, and safety, Alcoa
Eric Olson, senior vice president, BSR
Chris Page, director of climate and energy strategy, Yahoo!
Kyung-Ah Park, managing director and head of environmental markets group, Goldman Sachs
Rod Pearse, CEO and managing director, Boral Limited
Claus Stig Pedersen, head of corporate sustainability affairs, Novozymes
Mike Pedersen, group head, wealth management, TD Bank
Andrew Pelletier, vice president of corporate affairs and sustainability, Walmart Canada
Dierk Peters, director, WWF Sustainable Seafood Initiative
John Pflueger, principal environmental strategist, Dell Inc.
Chris Pinney, president, High Meadows Institute
Paul Polman, CEO, Unilever
Lawrence Pratt, senior lecturer, INCAE Business School
Jorgen Randers, professor of climate strategy, Norwegian Business School
Andreas Regnell, head of strategy and environment, Vattenfall
John Reilly, senior lecturer, MIT
Agneta Rising, vice president and head of environment, Vattenfall
Dawn Rittenhouse, director of sustainable development, DuPont
Harriet Ritvo, professor, MIT
Walter Robb, co-president and CEO, Whole Foods Market
Nick Robins, head, Climate Change Centre of Excellence, HSBC
Catherine Roche, managing director, BCG Dusseldorf
Jim Rogers, president and CEO, Duke Energy
Cathy Ross, senior program officer, Latin America program, Open Society Foundations
George Roth, principal research associate, MIT Sloan School of Management
John Ruggie, Berthold Beitz Professor in Human Rights and International Affairs, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University
Gwen Ruta, vice president of corporate partnerships, Environmental Defense Fund
Christian Rynning-Tønnesen, president and CEO, Statkraft
John Sall, cofounder and executive vice president, SAS
Gisela Sanchez Maroto, director of corporate relations, Florida Ice & Farm Co.
Len Sauers, vice president of global sustainability, P&G
William A. Sawyer, vice president and general manager, Intel Corp.
Auden Schendler, vice president of sustainability, Aspen Skiing Company
Ryan Schuchard, associate director, climate change, Business for Social Responsibility
John Schulz, director of sustainability operations, AT&T Inc.
Peter Schwartz, co-founder and chairman, Global Business Network
Jeff Seabright, vice president, environment and water resources, The Coca-Cola Company
Omar Selim, CEO, Arabesque
Peter Senge, senior lecturer, MIT Sloan School of Management
Jeff Senne, corporate responsibility operations leaders, PwC
Yossi Sheffi, professor, MIT; director, MIT Center for Transportation and Logistics
Cameron Sinclair, executive director and co-founder, Architecture for Humanity
Sarah Slaughter, senior lecturer, MIT Sloan School of Management
Beth Springer, executive vice president of international and personal care, Clorox
Dave Stangis, vice president of public affairs and corporate responsibility, Campbell Soup Company
Hannah Clark Steiman, writer, Metamorphos/Us
John Sterman, professor of management, MIT Sloan School of Management
Mark Stoler, director, environmental, health and safety operations, General Electric Co.
David Struhs, vice president of sustainability, Domtar
Pamela Styles, principal, Next Level Investor Relations
Joseph Sussman, JR East Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, MIT
Graeme Sweeney, executive vice president of CO2, Royal Dutch Shell
William A. Swope, vice president & general manager, corporate sustainability group, Intel Corp.
Prasanna Tambe, professor, NYU Leonard Stern School of Business
Zaid Tassabehji, director, utilities and asset management, Masdar
Sarah Teslik, senior vice president, communications, public affairs and governance, Apache Corp. (ISF)
Wood Turner, former vice president of sustainability innovation, Stonyfield Farm
Mark Vachon, vice president, GE ecomagination, GE
Susan Voigt, vice president, environment, health, safety and sustainability, Bristol-Myers Squibb Company
Stefan Waechter, knowledge analyst, The Boston Consulting Group Inc.
Vijay Waitheeswaran, correspondent, The Economist
Andy Wales, vice president of sustainable development, SABMiller
Brian Walker, CEO, Herman Miller
Peggy Ward, director, enterprise sustainability strategy team, Kimberly-Clark Corporation
Ulrich Wassmer, professor of strategy, EMLYON Business School
Allen White, senior fellow and vice president, Tellus Institute
Gaylon White, director of design programs, Eastman Chemical
Peter White, director for global sustainability, Procter & Gamble
Scott Wickers, chief sustainability officer, United Parcel Service Inc.
Kathrin Winkler, chief sustainability officer, EMC
Darcy Winslow, former general manager, sustainable business opportunities, Nike
Don Young, senior vice president of corporate sustainability, Smith & Nephew
1. The World Commission on Environment and Development, “Our Common Future,” Oxford University Press, 1987.
2. United Nations Global Compact, n.d., https://www.unglobalcompact.org.
3. “GRI and Sustainability Reporting,” n.d., www.globalreporting.org.
4. D. Kiron, N. Kruschwitz, K. Haanaes, M. Reeves, S.-K. Fuisz-Kehrbach, and G. Kell, “Joining Forces: Collaboration and Leadership for Sustainability,” Jan. 12, 2015, https://sloanreview.mit.edu.
5. G. Unruh, D. Kiron, N. Kruschwitz, M. Reeves, H. Rubel, and A.M. zum Felde, “Investing for a Sustainable Future,” May 11, 2016, https://sloanreview.mit.edu.
6. E.F. Williams’ book, “Green Giants: How Smart Companies Turn Sustainability into Billion-Dollar Businesses” is one source for this, but also BASF, Unilever, and others make this claim.
7. D. Kiron, N. Kruschwitz, H. Rubel, M. Reeves, and S.-K. Fuisz-Kehrbach, “Sustainability’s Next Frontier,” Dec. 16, 2013, https://sloanreview.mit.edu.
8. Swiss Re, “Sigma Explorer,” n.d., http://www.sigma-explorer.com.
9. H. Tabuchi, C. Rigby, and J. White, “Amazon Deforestation, Once Tamed, Comes Roaring Back,” New York Times, February 27, 2017.
10. P. Lacy, T. Cooper, R. Hayward, and L. Neuberger, “A New Era of Sustainability,” June 2010, http://www.unglobalcompact.org.
11. Institute for Sustainable Investing, “The Demanding World of Sustainable Investing,” Nov. 17, 2016, www.morganstanley.com.
12. UNEP Finance Initiative, “Integrated Governance: A New Model of Governance for Sustainability, June 2014, http://www.unepfi.org.
13. United Nations, “Principles for Responsible Investment: About the PRI,” n.d., www.unpri.org.
14. Sustainability Accounting Standards Board, “Mission,” n.d., https://www.sasb.org.
15. Sustainability Accounting Standards Board, “SASB 2015 Annual Report,” June 1, 2016, https://www.sasb.org, p. 13.
16. Sustainable Stock Exchanges Initiative, “2016 Report on Progress,” 2016, http://www.sseinitiative.org.
17. See G. Unruh et al., “Investing for a Sustainability Future.” More generally, aggregators of sustainability tools are on the rise. One example being developed at MIT Sloan School of Management is discussed in Bankson, A. M., “Find, Compare, Choose, and Learn About Sustainability Tools With SHIFT,” Nov. 16, 2016.
18. A. Davidson, “’Sustainable Investing’ Goes Mainstream,” Wall Street Journal, Jan. 13, 2016, https://www.wsj.com.
19. Climate Bonds Initiative, “Bonds and Climate Change: The State of the Market in 2016,” July, 2016, https://www.climatebonds.net.
20. E.L. Guidice and A. Panerai, “Here’s Why the Green Bond Market Is Set to Keep Growing,” Aug. 16, 2016, www.weforum.org; Bank for International Settlements, “BIS Statistics: Charts,” BIS Quarterly Review, June 2016, http://www.bis.org.
21. Clark, P., “Drax Seeks to Reinvent Itself For a Post-Coal Future,” Financial Times, Nov. 30, 2016, https://www.ft.com.
22. Survey respondents from Mexico tend to identify themselves with Latin America, not North America. So, “North America” in this context means the United States and Canada, not Mexico.
23. G. Unruh et al., “Investing for a Sustainable Future.”
24. See, for example, articles in a recent special report on emerging markets in MIT Sloan Management Review: M. Hensmans, “Competing Through Joint Innovation,” MIT Sloan Management Review 58, no. 2 (winter 2017): 26-33; A. Devang, C. Kruse, A. Parker, and P. Siren, “The Next Wave of Business Models in Asia,” MIT Sloan Management Review 58, no. 2 (winter 2017): 35-39; M. D. R. Chari, K. Luce, and I. Thukral, “Mastering the Market Intelligence Challenge,” MIT Sloan Management Review 58, no. 2 (winter 2017): 41-49; and S. Prashantham and G. S. Yip, “Engaging With Startups in Emerging Markets,” MIT Sloan Management Review 58, no. 2 (winter 2017): 51-56.
25. CB Bhattacharya and P. Polman, “Sustainability Lessons From the Front Lines,” MIT Sloan Management Review 58, no. 2 (winter 2017): 71-78.
26. Bhattacharya and Polman, “Sustainability Lessons From the Front Lines,” p. 73.
27. “Sustainable Living Brands Leading Unilever Growth,” May 20, 2016, www.unilever.com.
28. “Worn Wear: Better Than New,” n.d., http://www.patagonia.com/worn-wear.html
29. “Retail Growth by Not Growing,” Dec. 2, 2015, http://www.pymnts.com.
30. S. Griffin, H. Buxel, and Gökçe Esenduran, “Surprising Insights from Environmental Screenings,” MIT Sloan Management Review, Oct. 16, 2013, https://sloanreview.mit.edu.
31. BASF, “Examples for Accelerator Solutions,” n.d., https://www.basf.com.
32. SASB, “SASB Materiality Map™,” n.d., https://www.sasb.org
33. Jacobs Douwe Egbert acquired the Kraft coffee unit in 2015 from Mondelez, which was spun off from Kraft Foods in 2012.
34. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., “2016 Global Responsibility Report,” n.d., http://corporate.walmart.com.
35. M. Egan, “Ecoimagination Ten Years Later: Proving That Efficiency and Economics Go Hand-In-Hand,” Oct. 29, 2015, http://www.gereports.com.
36. “The 2016 Sustainability Leaders,” 2016, www.globescan.com.
37. Interview with Blaisdell took place for our 2015 “Joining Forces: Collaboration and Leadership for Sustainability,” report, op. cit. (Ref. 4), when she was a manager at Timberland.
38. “Higg Index,” 2017, http://apparelcoalition.org.
39. W. Kornegay, E. Olson, and D. Kiron, “Bringing Sustainability Metrics to Purchasing Decisions,” Nov. 13, 2015, https://sloanreview.mit.edu.
40. BSR, “Collaborative Initiatives: Procurement Leadership Group,” n.d., https://www.bsr.org.
41. D. Kiron, N. Kruschwitz, K. Haanaes, M. Reeves, and E. Goh, “The Innovation Bottom Line,” Feb. 5, 2013, https://sloanreview.mit.edu.
42. UNEPFI, “Integrated Governance: A New Model of Governance for Sustainability.”
43. Paine, L.S. “Sustainability in the Boardroom: Lessons from Nike’s Playbook.” Harvard Business Review 92, no. 7-8 (Jul-Aug 2014): 87-94.
44. R.G. Eccles and T. Youmans, “The Board That Embraced Stakeholders Beyond Shareholders,” MIT Sloan Management Review, June 9, 2016, https://sloanreview.mit.edu.
45. Atlas Copco AB, “Atlas Copco Annual Report 2015,” http://www.atlascopcogroup.com.
46. These results were published in G. Unruh et al., “Investing for a Sustainable Future.”
47. M. Santisteve, “The IR Opportunity to Communicate Sustainability,” Nov. 25, 2014, www.irmagazine.com.
48. D. Kiron et al., “Sustainability’s Next Frontier.”
49. D. Kiron et al., “Joining Forces.”
51. Interview with Turner took place for D. Kiron et al., “Joining Forces,” when he was a manager at Stonyfield Farm.
52. Bhattacharya and Polman, “Sustainability Lessons.”
53. K. Earley, “More Than Half of All Businesses Ignore UN’s Sustainable Development Goals,” The Guardian, Sept. 30, 2016, www.theguardian.com.
54. I. Embree, “How 17 Companies Are Tackling Sustainable Development Goals (and Your Company Can, Too),” The Huffington Post, Sept. 13, 2016, www.huffingtonpost.com.
55. L. Elliott, “Carney Warns of Risks From Climate Change ‘Tragedy of the Horizon’,” The Guardian, Sept. 29, 2015, www.theguardian.com.
56. G. Unruh, “Ronald Reagan: The Father of CSR,” The CSR Blog, March 9, 2011, www.forbes.com.
i. G. Unruh et al., “Investing for a Sustainable Future.”
ii. Content in this sidebar is adapted from R. Post, “For BASF, Sustainability Is a Catalyst,” MIT Sloan Management Review, Oct. 15, 2014, https://sloanreview.mit.edu.
iii. For the design of this document, see D. Kiron, N. Kruschwitz, M. Reeves, and E. Goh, “The Benefits of Sustainability-Driven Innovation,” MIT Sloan Management Review 54, no. 2 (winter 2013): 69-73.